Wednesday, April 24, 2013
What Charlie Ergen’s Rational Exuberance Means for Consumers
In the latest of an unbroken chain of disinformation from the Wall Street Journal, columnist Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. today implies that a Dish Network acquisition of Sprint offers more proof that there’s nothing but sunshine in the broadband and wireless marketplace. According to Mr. Jenkins, anyone having a “woe is us refrain” ignores the robustness of facilities-based competition and how the network neutrality issue is a solution seeking a problem.
Not so fast Mr. Jenkins. There is another meme to yours that your publisher won’t allow and you cannot fathom: Dish Network, like AT&T, Comcast and all actual or prospective acquiring companies have commercial objectives that mostly involve enhancing shareholder value, goosing stock options, locking up spectrum and buying out competitors than promoting competition or ensuring fairness and transparency. There is nothing wrong, noble or charitable about Mr. Ergen’s gambit: just like Comcast, he sees the need to find a hedge and alternative to his core satellite services. Just in case consumers lose their appetite for a forced bundle of content tiers, delivered via Mr. Ergen’s satellites or Comcast’s cables, incumbents like Dish need to identify new profit centers. For both Comcast it involved bolstering control over content, not just its distribution. For Dish it requires a return to earth-based content distribution technologies in addition to—hopefully not in lieu of—the satellite option.
Dish sees Sprint primarily as a source of terrestrial spectrum, perhaps for the same content it now distributes via satellite. There is nothing in a Dish acquisition that bolsters the “reality” of broadband competition, or refutes concerns about the incentive and ability of network operators to favor affiliates. Dish may revitalize Sprint, but the deal does not create new competitors, new competition, or more spectrum.
Mr. Jenkins exuberantly sees a rosy future when competitors buy each other out and collaborate in ways that foreclose even the prospect for facilities-based competition.